“What's really strikes me about ACA is the potential to shape the next generation of leaders on arms control and nuclear policy. This is something I witnessed firsthand as someone who was introduced to the field through ACA.”
– Alicia Sanders-Zakre
June 2, 2022

New Momentum for Nuclear Talks?

The United States and Iran took limited steps to de-escalate tensions over the past few weeks, but it is unclear if the progress will lead to a resumption of talks over Iran’s advancing nuclear program and steps to reduce nuclear risk. On Sept. 18, five Americans imprisoned in Iran returned to the United States. In exchange, five Iranians in U.S. custody were released, and South Korea completed the transfer of $6 billion of Iran’s frozen assets to Qatar. Iran can access those funds to pay for goods exempt from U.S. sanctions, such as food and medicine. The Biden administration faced criticism...

Transfer of Banned Cluster Munitions to Ukraine Is the Wrong Move



Cluster Munitions Are Prohibited by the Majority of the World's Nations and NATO Allies  

For Immediate Release: July 6, 2023

Media Contacts: Daryl Kimball, Arms Control Association, (202) 463-8270 ext 107; Susan Aboeid, Human Rights Watch, (212) 290-4700

(Washington D.C.)—The head of the independent, nongovernmental Arms Control Association criticized the announcement expected from the Biden administration that President Biden will shift course and will invoke a waiver under U.S. arms export laws to allow stocks of U.S. cluster munitions to be transferred to the government of Ukraine.

Cluster munitions are designed to disperse or release explosive submunitions, each of which weighs less than 20 kilograms, and includes those explosive submunitions. The U.S. stockpile includes dual-purpose improved conventional munitions (DPICMs), surface-to-surface warheads, and other types of older cluster munitions. Given that cluster munitions disperse hundreds or even thousands of tiny but deadly bomblets, their use produces significant quantities of unexploded submunitions that can maim, injure, or kill civilians and friendly forces during, and long after, a conflict.

The limited military value and the indiscriminate impacts of these weapons led the majority of the world’s countries to negotiate the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. The treaty – which  123 nations have joined – prohibits states parties from developing, producing, acquiring, using, transferring, or stockpiling cluster munitions. While twenty-three NATO members are parties to the treaty, the United States, Ukraine, and Russia are not.

In response to the expected announcement, Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association, said: “Some types of lethal U.S. and European military assistance to Ukraine, including cluster munitions, would be escalatory, counterproductive, and only further increase the dangers to civilians caught in combat zones and those who will, someday, return to their cities, towns, and farms.

Some U.S. officials claim that these weapons 'would be useful' against mass formations of troops and armor or broad targets, such as airfields, and that they would allow Ukraine to concentrate their use of unitary warheads against higher-value Russian targets.

The reality is more complicated. Cluster munitions will not differentiate a Ukrainian soldier from a Russian one. The effectiveness of cluster munitions is significantly oversold and the impact on noncombatants is widely acknowledged, but too often overlooked.

The limited military utility and the substantial humanitarian dangers of cluster munitions are among the key reasons why the Defense Department halted using them in Afghanistan in 2002 and Iraq in 2003, and has chosen to invest in alternative munitions.

It is why, in 2008, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates issued an order to phase out by 2018 cluster munitions with an unexploded ordnance rate of greater than one percent, and it is why, in 2011, the Obama administration affirmed this policy. It is why Congress, in 2018, enacted a series of export restrictions on cluster munitions with a failure rate in excess of one percent.

The Pentagon has, unfortunately, dragged its feet and in 2017, the Trump administration announced the 2018 deadline for phasing out non-compliant cluster munitions would not be met. No new deadline for meeting that goal was set by the Trump administration or the Biden administration. 

The impetus to help supply Ukraine with the right kind of weaponry to defend its territory against Russian attacks and occupation is understandable. But cluster munitions are not the “winning weapon” in Ukraine’s fight for its future, and the success of its ongoing counteroffensive does not hinge on the delivery of any one particular type of weapon.

Currently, Washington is providing Ukraine with other munitions that are important for its military effort to repel Russia’s forces, including regular 155-millimeter unitary munitions and a new type of 155-mm millimeter artillery shell that can hit targets with greater precision.

Instead of transferring controversial cluster munitions and straining alliance solidarity, Washington and its allies should focus more energy on creative ways to provide Ukraine with the precision-guided munitions and the artillery shells it needs to repel Russian aggression.

It is also clear that cluster munitions produce significant quantities of unexploded submunitions that can maim, injure, or kill civilians and friendly forces during, and long after, a conflict. Human Rights Watch has issued numerous reports detailing civilian harm and suffering from U.S.-made cluster munitions used in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Serbia, and Yemen.

As President Biden noted on the one-year anniversary of Russia’s brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, “The decisions we make over the next five years are going to determine and shape our lives for decades to come… a choice between chaos and stability.”

Rather than add to the chaos and side-step the rules of the global system, President Biden should make it clear that cluster munitions need not and should not be part of the conflict in Ukraine, or in any war."


Some types of lethal U.S. and European military assistance to Ukraine, including cluster munitions, would be escalatory, counterproductive, and only further increase the dangers to civilians caught in combat zones

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Allies Prepare for Crucial NATO Summit

July/August 2023
By Gabriela Iveliz Rosa Hernández

NATO members will discuss the future of the alliance at a July 10-11 summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, during a tumultuous time in which Russia continues waging war on Ukraine and Ukraine pushes for commitments that it will be welcomed into NATO after the fighting ends.

Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvidas Anusauskas (L to R), German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda visit soldiers taking part in a Lithuanian-German military exercise in Lithuania, on June 26. Germany says it will station 4,000 troops in Lithuania, which asked NATO to strengthen its eastern flank. (Photo by Petras Malukas/AFP via Getty Images)Although NATO members have pledged to continue supporting Ukraine, they differ on its eventual accession to the alliance. “This is not a situation where the entire alliance has agreed language for how to describe Ukraine’s membership aspirations, and there’s one or two countries that stand outside of that group in opposition,” Julianne Smith, U.S. ambassador to NATO, said June 14 during a U.S. State Department briefing from Brussels.

“We are having and we have had a series of conversations where allies are looking at both an array of concrete deliverables and an array of options for describing their membership aspirations,” she said.

Compromises under consideration appear designed to suggest that Ukraine is moving closer to NATO membership, but fall short of a commitment by the 31 allies to come to Ukraine’s collective defense, as guaranteed under Article 5 of the NATO treaty.

At a June 16 press conference in Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, “We are now close to finalizing an agreement to establish the NATO-Ukraine Council, and that will be something different than the Commission, where we 31 allies meet Ukraine.”

The commission, established in 1997, has provided a forum for consultation on security issues of common concern, including Russia and its war on Ukraine. Stoltenberg said that, under the council format, “Ukraine will be equal to NATO allies” and have the same rights as they “consult and decide on issues of mutual concern.” But the allies would not be sworn to defend Ukraine if it is the victim of another armed attack.

Despite being the biggest military supporter of Ukraine, the United States has been reluctant to endorse Ukraine’s early accession to NATO. The Washington Post reported on June 15 that Washington is tentatively backing a plan that would remove barriers to Ukraine’s entry without setting a timeline for admission.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy implored NATO to put Ukraine on a clear path to membership, even threatening to skip the summit if the allies do not send a signal on the matter, according to Politico. “We understand that we will not be in NATO or in any powerful security alliance during this war. But tell me, how many [Ukrainian] lives is one sentence at the Vilnius summit worth?” Zelenskyy told the The Wall Street Journal on June 3.

Stoltenberg said, “At the Vilnius summit and in the preparations for the summit, we’re not discussing to issue a formal invitation.”

Members of NATO’s eastern flank—Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia—released a statement on June 6 calling for upgraded ties with Ukraine. "We expect that in Vilnius, we will upgrade our political relations with Ukraine to a new level and launch a new political track that will lead to Ukraine’s membership in NATO, once conditions allow," they said, according to Reuters.

French President Emmanuel Macron has expressed support for “something between Israel-style security guarantees and fully-fledged [NATO] membership,” according to Politico. Some NATO leaders say support for Ukraine’s membership bid will pressure Russia to negotiate an end to the war.

At the summit, the allies will discuss new regional defense plans. “I think we’ll look back at the rollout of these new regional plans as, really, a new chapter for the alliance in terms of how it thinks about not just planning but…its command and control, its force structure requirements, its resourcing,” Smith said.

A new “defense investment pledge” is also on the agenda. In 2014, the allies promised to strive for a 2 percent goal on national defense spending. “Now, there is…an immediate need, to increase defense spending.… I think more and more allies also agree to the fact that 2 percent should not be some kind of ceiling, but a minimum,” Stoltenberg said.

Because NATO is looking now at conventional deployments that would not necessarily be considered under the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, members could be expected to comment on the status of that agreement’s future. The act is also an issue on which the allies do not have a unified view. (See ACT, May 2023; July/August 2022.) It states that NATO will not permanently deploy substantial conventional forces, which are typically assumed to mean more than one brigade, in new member states. The act also stipulates that NATO has no intention, reason, or plan to deploy nuclear weapons or nuclear storage sites in the territories of states that joined NATO after the Soviet Union disintegrated.

On June 26, the Lithuanian Ministry of Defense announced that Germany was ready to deploy a permanent brigade of 4,000 troops to Lithuania. The move is contingent on the construction of the necessary infrastructure to accommodate the soldiers and military exercise facilities, according to the German newspaper Der Spiegel.

Plans by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to move nuclear weapons to Belarus on July 7-8, days before the NATO summit, have prompted discussion about an alliance response. (See ACT, June 2023.) On June 16, NATO noted that it had seen some preparations for the move. “We don’t see a reason right now to alter our strategic posture, but this is a live debate and an issue that again we take very seriously, and we will continue to monitor very closely here across the alliance,” Smith said.

Meeting on June 13 at the White House, U.S. President Joe Biden and Stoltenberg said they look forward to welcoming Sweden into the alliance. A year ago, NATO formally invited Finland and Sweden to join. (See ACT, July/August 2022.) Since then, Finland has completed its accession, but Turkey and Hungary have yet to ratify Sweden’s membership bid.

“The message here coming both from the United States and many other allies is that we very much hope that Sweden will become the 32nd member of the alliance either before or by Vilnius. In our view, Sweden is ready,” Smith said.

On June 14, Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, put a hold on new U.S. arms sales to Hungary until it acts on Sweden’s bid.

Despite Stoltenberg’s intention to retire as secretary-general in September after serving since 2014, NATO allies agreed on July 4 to extend his mandate for one more year. The decision highlights the allies’ failure to achieve consensus on a potential successor. In response, Stoltenberg tweeted, “Honoured by #NATO Allies’ decision to extend my term as Secretary General until 1 October 2024.”


The meeting takes place amid Russia’s war on Ukraine and Ukraine’s push for NATO membership. 

A New Opening for Nuclear Talks?

Recent comments from U.S. and Iranian officials suggest that the space for negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program may be opening back up after talks broke down in August, but the two sides denied recent reports that an interim nuclear deal is on the table. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani confirmed a June 9 Axios report that the United States and Iran held indirect talks in Oman in May. Kanaani told reporters that Iran conveyed messages to the United States regarding the lifting of sanctions. He also said Tehran remains focused on restoring the 2015 nuclear deal, known...

Turkey, Hungary Ratify Finland’s NATO Bid

April 2023

The Turkish and Hungarian parliaments ratified Finland’s application for NATO membership, clearing the last obstacle to the Nordic country’s bid and expanding the alliance border with Russia.

Turkey, the last holdout, approved Finland’s membership by a unanimous vote of 276 on March 30, three days after the Hungarian Parliament ratified the application by a 182–6 vote. Turkey and Hungary frustrated NATO for months by repeatedly postponing action.

Finland’s ascension to NATO would add one of Western Europe’s most potent wartime militaries to the alliance as well as intelligence and border-surveillance abilities, The New York Times reported.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had said that his government would ratify Finland’s application before the Turkish election on May 14, making way for Finland to join the alliance without Sweden.

“With Finland’s membership, NATO will become stronger,” Erdoğan told a joint press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö in Ankara on March 17.

Niinistö, addressing Sweden’s NATO bid, said, “I have a feeling that Finnish membership is not complete without Sweden…. I would like to see [at the NATO summit in July] in Vilnius that we will need the alliance of 32 members.”

Last June, U.S. President Joe Biden welcomed Turkey’s decision to agree to a trilateral memorandum with Finland and Sweden, under NATO auspices, that was supposed to pave the way for the Nordic nations to join the alliance. Finland and Sweden affirmed their support for Turkey against threats to its national security and insisted that they should join NATO together. (See ACT, November 2022.)

But on Oct. 6, Erdoğan suggested that Finland and Sweden should join the alliance separately and renewed his threat about blocking Swedish accession. Previously, Turkey had accused Sweden and, to a lesser degree, Finland of aiding groups that Turkey identifies as terrorists, namely the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Turkish separatist group, and an armed group in Syria that Turkey perceives as an extension of the PKK.

Sweden’s NATO bid remained up in the air as members of Hungary’s governing party insisted they will wait for Stockholm to clear up lingering disagreements before they go to a vote. Meanwhile, Erdoğan said talks with Sweden would continue but support for its application would depend on the Nordic country taking “solid steps.”—GABRIELA IVELIZ ROSA HERNÁNDEZ

Turkey, Hungary Ratify Finland’s NATO Bid

Biden, G-7 Must Deliver on Disarmament at Hiroshima

March 2023
By Daryl G. Kimball

In the midst of Russian nuclear threats in its war on Ukraine and an accelerating global nuclear arms competition, U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders of the Group of Seven (G-7) industrialized states will convene for their 2023 summit in Hiroshima, Japan.

In this photo taken on August 6, 2021, the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, as it was known before 1945, and now called the Atomic Bomb Dome, is seen through the cenotaph at the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima as the city marks the 76th anniversary of the world's first atomic bomb attack. (Photo by YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images)The May 19–21 gathering creates a crucial opportunity for Biden and his counterparts to recognize the horrors of nuclear war and reaffirm the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons while pledging concrete steps to halt the arms race, guard against nuclear weapons use, and advance nuclear disarmament. Anything less would be a failure of leadership at a time of nuclear peril.

To his credit, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida chose Hiroshima, his home city, as the summit venue “to deepen discussions so that we can release a strong message toward realizing a world free of nuclear weapons.” In addition to the usual G-7 communique, Japan is proposing a separate joint statement on nuclear matters. Kishida told French President Emmanuel Macron in January that the leaders must “demonstrate a firm commitment to absolutely reject the threat or use of nuclear weapons.”

To do so, the G-7 statement should not only reaffirm that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” but also reiterate the powerful Nov. 16 statement by the Group of 20 countries that nuclear weapons use and threats of nuclear use are “inadmissible.” Agreement on such a statement may not be easy because all G-7 states, including host Japan, cling to nuclear deterrence strategies that depend on the threat of nuclear weapons use.

To be credible, the G-7 leaders also should pledge to follow through on their countries’ own, largely unrealized nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Article VI-related disarmament commitments, including to reduce the role, salience, and number of nuclear weapons. NPT obligations and commitments cannot be voided or delayed indefinitely.

In fact, pursuing disarmament is vital to preventing the international security environment from deteriorating further. With the last remaining Russian-U.S. nuclear arms control agreement expiring in 2026, the G-7 must urge the prompt resumption of talks to restore inspections under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and a new nuclear arms control framework.

To more effectively encourage China to exercise nuclear restraint, Biden and the rest of the G-7 should pledge not to support the development of new types of nuclear weapons, including U.S. sea-based nuclear-armed cruise missiles that Biden opposes but some U.S. and Japanese politicians claim are needed to counter China. Biden also should recognize China’s important role in strengthening the fragile nuclear order and invite President Xi Jinping to explore how the two nations can partner to address common nuclear nonproliferation challenges, including North Korea, and disarmament responsibilities.

In response to appeals from the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to engage their local communities to understand the reality of nuclear war, Japanese government sources say arrangements are being made for the G-7 leaders to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which U.S. President Barack Obama toured in 2016.

Any U.S. presidential visit to Hiroshima is symbolically and politically important. Serious reflection and engagement with atomic bombing and testing survivors should be a job requirement for the leader of any nuclear-armed state. The G-7 would be smart to acknowledge the harm of the U.S. atomic bombings in 1945, as well as the environmental damage created by the nuclear weapons production and testing activities by all nuclear-weapon states, and to reaffirm their obligation to fully address these devastating impacts.

Biden, who pledged in 2020 to “restore American leadership on arms control and nonproliferation…and work to bring us closer to a world without nuclear weapons,” must provide even bolder leadership. In addition to supporting the strongest possible G-7 statement, joining other leaders at the museum, and laying a wreath in honor of those who perished from the atomic bombings, Biden should make a separate address in Hiroshima or Nagasaki outlining his own vision for a new global nuclear restraint and disarmament dialogue.

Biden could use such a speech to reiterate his invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin to hold serious talks designed to maintain commonsense limits on or, ideally, further reduce Russian and U.S. nuclear stockpiles and to elaborate on why such an approach is essential for U.S., allied, and global security. Biden could remind other nuclear-armed states, particularly China, France, India, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom, that they need to be part of the solution and urge them to freeze the overall size of their nuclear weapons stockpiles as long as the United States and Russia continue to reduce theirs.

At a time of unprecedented nuclear danger, Japan’s decision to bring G-7 leaders to Hiroshima is an obvious yet bold choice. To be successful, Kishida and Biden must make the Hiroshima summit more than a symbolic backdrop. It must be a catalyst for bold, effective disarmament action to ensure that no country suffers the horrors of nuclear war ever again.

In the midst of Russian nuclear threats in its war on Ukraine and an accelerating global nuclear arms competition, U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders of the Group of Seven (G-7) industrialized states will convene for their 2023 summit in Hiroshima, Japan.

U.S. Cites Russian Noncompliance with New START Inspections

Russia has failed to fully comply with the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty ( New START ) because of its refusal to allow on-site inspections and to reschedule a meeting to discuss treaty concerns, according to a U.S. assessment released in January. Senior Russian officials have accused the United States of “politicizing nuclear arms control,” saying that Washington “would have to adjust its policy towards Russia to move to a constructive arms control agenda.” In August, Moscow prohibited U.S. on-site inspections of its nuclear weapons-related facilities subject to the treaty over...

UN Diplomats Spar Over Iranian Drone Sales

January/February 2023
By Kelsey Davenport

The United States expressed its regret over the UN secretary-general’s failure to initiate an investigation into evidence that Iran is supplying Russia with drones in violation of a UN Security Council resolution.

Activists protested at the Iranian embassy in Kyiv in October after the shelling of Ukrainian territory by kamikaze drones, which Iran supplies to Russia. (Photo by Yevhenii Zavhorodnii/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)The United States, along with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, requested in October that Secretary-General António Guterres investigate the drone transfers as part of his mandate to report on implementation of Security Council Resolution 2231. The request followed an Oct. 17 letter from Ukraine to Guterres accusing Iran of transferring the drones to Russia in violation of the resolution.

Resolution 2231 was passed unanimously in July 2015. In addition to endorsing the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), it prohibits Iran from transferring nuclear-capable ballistic missiles and drones, as well as certain materials and technologies relevant for building those systems, until October 2023 without approval from the Security Council.

The secretary-general is charged with reporting twice a year on the status of the resolution and has investigated evidence of illicit missile transfers in the past. But his Dec. 12 report said only that the UN Secretariat is “examining the available information” and will report any findings to the Security Council “as appropriate.”

Robert Wood, the U.S. alternative representative to the United Nations, told the Security Council during a Dec. 19 meeting that, for the past seven years, the UN mandate to report on Resolution 2231’s implementation “has been clear and unquestioned.” The failure to open an investigation “is not acceptable,” and there must “be some degree of accountability for openly violating” council resolutions, Wood said.

Vassily Nebenzia, Russian ambassador to the UN, disputed Guterres’s authority to conduct an investigation under the resolution and said Russia shared its legal analysis regarding this issue with the secretary-general. Nebenzia said on Dec. 19 that any “pseudo-investigations are legally null and void” and that Guterres must not “succumb to pressure of Western states.”

Iran has admitted to selling drones to Russia, but denied that its actions violate the resolution’s provisions. In a Nov. 5 statement, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said Iran “sold a limited number of drones” to Moscow but the transfer took place prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Amirabdollahian said that if Ukraine proves that Russia used Iranian drones in the war in Ukraine, “we will not remain indifferent to this issue.”

In two letters to Guterres in October, Iran said that it “has never produced or supplied” materials and technologies that “could contribute to the development of nuclear weapon delivery systems” and argued that Resolution 2231 only restricts the transfers of items that could contribute to such systems.

The resolution uses the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) export control lists to define the materials and technologies that Iran is prohibited from transferring without Security Council approval. The MTCR seeks to limit the spread of missiles and drones capable of delivering nuclear warheads, which the regime defines as systems that can carry a 500 kilogram payload more than 300 kilometers.

Sergiy Kysltsya, Ukrainian ambassador to the UN, said that the drones transferred to Russia fall into the categories covered by the MTCR export control list and therefore violate the resolution. He invited UN experts in October to examine drones and drone debris recovered and open an investigation.

Barbara Woodward, UK ambassador to the UN, expressed support for such a visit and encouraged Guterres to “examine and report” any evidence of transfers inconsistent with the resolution. She also strongly cautioned Iran “against any further deliveries of weapons to Russia” and said that transferring short-range ballistic missiles would “constitute a serious escalation.”

In the Dec. 12 report, Guterres called for the United States and Iran to return to compliance with the JCPOA, but the diplomatic stalemate appears likely to continue.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell met Amirabdollahian in Jordan on Dec. 20 and said that both agreed to “keep communication open” and to restore the JCPOA on the “basis of Vienna negotiations.” The parties last met in Vienna in August, and those meetings informed the draft agreement to restore the JCPOA that Borrell described as “final” and circulated to the parties on Aug. 8. (See ACT, September 2022.)

Prior to the Dec. 20 meeting, Borrell told the EU Foreign Affairs Council that “we do not have a better option than the JCPOA to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons” and that although Iran’s nuclear escalation is “of great concern, we have to continue engaging as much as possible in trying to revive this deal.”

But there does not appear to be any progress on resolving the issues that prevented the parties from reaching an agreement based on Borrell’s August draft.

Iranian officials remain adamant that an agreement to restore the JCPOA cannot happen until the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) closes its investigation into past Iranian nuclear activities that should have been declared under Iran’s legally binding safeguards agreement.

The United States and the European parties to the deal have made clear they will not pressure the IAEA to prematurely end the investigation. (See ACT, December 2022.)

IAEA officials, including the head of the safeguards department, Massimo Aparo, traveled to Tehran on Dec. 18 to continue discussions about the investigation. The IAEA did not comment on the meetings, but Iranian officials described them as businesslike.

Kamal Kharrazi, head of Iran’s Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, said that resolving the safeguards issue could “break the ice” on the stalled JCPOA negotiations.

Even if there is progress on the safeguards issue, the political space for reaching an agreement to restore the JCPOA is narrowing.

Iran’s transfer of drones to Russia and brutal crackdown against peaceful protesters has shifted U.S. and European focus away from the JCPOA. Iran’s nuclear advances also continue to erode the nonproliferation benefits of a restored accord.

Antje Leendertse, German ambassador to the UN, said on Dec. 19 that the “prospects for a sustainable diplomatic solution” have been “fading in recent months.” She cited Iran’s nuclear escalation and support for Russia’s “brutal and unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine.”

Nebenzia said that the JCPOA remains the “best tool” for strengthening the nonproliferation regime and it must “become fully functional again as soon as possible.”

He accused the United States and Europe of using the drone transfer allegations to undermine the JCPOA. The allegations were “first made the moment the Vienna talks entered the final stage,” which clearly shows “who is simply politicizing the discussion,” he said.


The United States expressed regret over the UN secretary-general’s failure to initiate an investigation into evidence that Iran is supplying Russia with drones for its war against Ukraine. 

IAEA Board Censures Iran Again

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s Board of Governors passed its second resolution this year censuring Iran for failing to cooperate with the agency’s investigation into past nuclear activities that should have been declared under Tehran’s safeguards agreement. The censure was expected, particularly after a Nov. 10 IAEA report said that there has been “no progress” in resolving the outstanding issues despite IAEA and Iranian officials meeting in September and November. In a Nov. 17 statement introducing the resolution on behalf of France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the...

NATO, Russia Conduct Simultaneous Nuclear Exercises

November 2022
By Shannon Bugos

NATO kicked off its annual nuclear exercise, dubbed Steadfast Noon, in mid-October, and Russia launched its scheduled Grom strategic nuclear exercises about a week later. The exercises heightened tensions more than usual this year, as they took place after Russia intensified its brutal assault on Ukraine and once again wielded threats of using nuclear weapons.

A Belgian F-16 jet fighter was among the weapons systems that participated in NATO’s annual nuclear exercise, called Steadfast Noon, in mid-October as tensions with Russia heightened over the war in Ukraine. (Photo by Kenzo Triboulillard/AFP via Getty Images)NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Oct. 11 rejected the prospect of canceling the “routine training” of Steadfast Noon, saying doing so would send “a very wrong signal.”

“If we now created the grounds for any misunderstanding, miscalculation in Moscow about our willingness to protect and defend all allies, we would increase the risk of escalation,” Stoltenberg said.

The Steadfast Noon exercise involved 14 of NATO’s 30 members and up to 60 tactical nuclear fighter jets and surveillance aircraft in Europe, with Belgium’s Kleine Brogel Air Base serving as home base. U.S. officials noted in a very rare disclosure that some B-52H strategic bombers from U.S. Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota also participated.

The flights are intended to practice delivering U.S. B61 nuclear gravity bombs, although the aircraft will fly unarmed. The exercise will include flights over Belgium, the United Kingdom, and the North Sea. In advance of the exercise, Western officials emphasized that Steadfast Noon would not feature a scenario related to Ukraine and would take place more than 600 miles from Russia. The NATO exercise lasted two weeks, starting Oct. 17.

The Grom, or Thunder, exercise began Oct. 26. The last Russian exercise was in February, less than a week before Russia invaded Ukraine, under Russian President Vladimir Putin’s close supervision. (See ACT, March 2022.) The Russian exercises usually feature the deployment of strategic nuclear systems; launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles, as well as systems such as new hypersonic weapons; and large-scale military troop maneuvers.

A Western official told Reuters on Oct. 13 that, with Grom occurring alongside the war in Ukraine, “we do have an additional challenge to really be sure that the actions that we see, the things that are occurring, are actually an exercise and not something else.”

But U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said on Oct. 13 that the United States is aware that “Russian nuclear units train extensively at this time of year,” even though Russia “probably believes this exercise will help it project power.”

Over the course of the war, Putin has issued multiple threats to use nuclear weapons against any country seen as interfering in Ukraine and, more recently, to protect “the territorial integrity of our motherland…by all the systems available to us.” (See ACT, October 2022.)

After Russia’s claimed annexation of four Ukrainian regions in September, which was roundly condemned worldwide as illegal, the Kremlin stressed its view that an attack in those regions equals an attack on Russia. That assertion gives rise to the possibility that Russia may contemplate using nuclear weapons against Ukraine if the Ukrainian military carries out an attack in those regions.

“All these territories are inalienable parts of the Russian Federation,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov said on Oct. 18. “Their security is provided for at the same level as [it is for] the rest of Russia’s territory.”

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov attempted to downplay Putin’s threats on Sept. 23, claiming that Moscow is “not threatening anyone with nuclear weapons.”

Yet, a week later, Putin issued another nuclear threat. He argued that the United States set a precedent for nuclear use with the 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, stating “we will defend our land with all the forces and resources we have, and we will do everything we can to ensure the safety of our people.”

CNN reported on Sept. 28 that U.S. officials have said that the threat of Putin ordering the use of nuclear weapons is more “elevated” now than at any time since the war began.

Nevertheless, U.S. and allied intelligence agencies that closely monitor Russian nuclear forces continue to assess that there are no indications of potential imminent Russian nuclear weapons use. The Pentagon has said repeatedly that it sees no need to adjust the U.S. strategic nuclear force posture.

Analysts have suggested that Russia may consider using nuclear weapons in a strike at a Ukrainian military facility or in a “display,” such as the detonation of a nuclear weapon over the Black Sea or Arctic Ocean.

U.S. President Joe Biden emphasized the seriousness with which the United States and its allies treat Putin’s numerous nuclear threats in Oct. 6 remarks. “We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since [U.S. President John F.] Kennedy and the Cuban missile crisis” in October 1962, Biden said. “We’re trying to figure out, What is Putin’s off-ramp?”

Biden later commented that he does not think that ultimately Putin will call for the use of Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

The United States and NATO have declined to detail potential responses, whether diplomatic, military, economic, or a combination, to Russian nuclear use.

“We have communicated directly, privately, at very high levels to the Kremlin that any use of nuclear weapons will be met with catastrophic consequences for Russia [and] that the United States [and] our allies will respond decisively,” U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Sept. 25. “We have been clear and specific about what that will entail.”

Sullivan later stressed that the Biden administration maintains its goal “to avoid a direct conflict between nuclear superpowers.”

French President Emmanuel Macron dismissed on Oct. 13 the possibility that Paris would order the use of its nuclear weapons in response to a Russian nuclear strike. France’s vital national security interests, on which its nuclear doctrine rests, “would not be at stake if there was a nuclear ballistic attack in Ukraine or in the region,” Macron said in an interview with TV channel France 2.

Despite the war and the rhetoric, the United States and Russia continue to exchange data on their respective nuclear arsenals, as required by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). The most recent exchange took place on Sept. 1, with the information released to the public a month later.

According to the exchange, the United States has 1,420 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on 659 delivery vehicles, and Russia has 1,549 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on 540 delivery vehicles.

The treaty limits are 1,550 for the warheads and 700 for the delivery vehicles.

On-site inspections conducted under New START remain paused since Russia prohibited inspections of its nuclear weapons-related facilities in August. (See ACT, September 2022.)

Washington stated in September that the resumption of on-site inspections is a prerequisite for the two countries to negotiate a new arms control arrangement to replace New START, which expires in February 2026. (See ACT, October 2022.)

A U.S. State Department spokesperson told Arms Control Today on Oct. 18 that “the United States is working with Russia to schedule a session of New START’s Bilateral Consultative Commission for the purpose of resuming inspections.” The commission is the implementation body of the treaty, intended to serve as a forum in which to discuss any concerns and issues that may arise as the countries carry out treaty activities and procedures.

Russian threats to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine added new tensions as NATO, Russia held separate military exercises.


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